With the beginning of Chanukah falling on Thanksgiving, many folks will be focused on the traditional turkey-centric meal and related Thanksgiving aspects of the day. But it is good to remember that Chanukah is not only the more important of the two holidays, it also lasts longer — far longer than any Thanksgiving leftovers. So a little more thought and contemplation are required. With this in mind, relevant to a column on wines and distilled spirits, it seems worthwhile to discuss some great booze related gifts.
Although Chanukah gift giving is an Americanization of the actual Jewish custom of giving Chanukah gelt (money), we will give into modern convention and so have once more compiled our own Chanukah wish list.
Let’s start with the latest craze in wine service, the Coravin Wine Access system. A brilliantly conceived bit of technology, the Coravin has a hollow needle attached to a small canister of inert argon gas. Placing the device over the bottle allows the needle to penetrate through the cork. The argon gas passes into the bottle permitting the wine to flow out and keeping oxygen from coming into contact with the remaining wine. When the device is removed the cork reseals itself leaving the remaining wine essentially as if the bottle was never disturbed. It is pricey ($300) but it may be worth the cost for those who own expensive and collectible bottles and want to enjoy a glass or two and still be able to keep the rest for much later.
The kosher wine industry is thriving, especially in Israel where there continues to be rapid growth in production and new wineries seemingly appear all the time. We would love to try some wines from Bashan, Beit-El, Ben David, Domaine Ventura, Livni, Kinor David, Nachal Amud and Yaffo, to name just a few. And we wouldn’t mind if Margalit, one of Israel’s best nonkosher wineries, created a kosher bottling or two.
And we would love to try some of the special kosher “He’Brew” beer releases from the Schmaltz Brewing Company. Established in 1996 by Jeremy Cowan who squeezed pomegranates to create an ale that he sold out of the trunk of his grandmother’s Volvo, the Schmaltz Brewing Company is one of the most widely recognized and rapidly growing U.S. craft brewing companies.
Founded in San Francisco where their beers were made under contract, Schmaltz recently opened its own brewery in upstate New York. To celebrate this transition, the company released a black IPA named “Death of Contract Brewing” made with 7 hops and 7 malts that sounds delicious. We would also love to try the “St. Lenny’s,” a Belgian-style Rye double IPA, the “Jewbelation Reborn 17” created with 17 hops and 17 malts that celebrates their 17 years of brewing and the “R.I.P.A. on Rye,” a Rye double IPA aged in Willet Rye whisky barrels.
Spirits-wise, we just love getting free hooch, so there seems little point in compiling a specific wish list. Though for any of our friends still trying to figure out what to get us: anything from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, the world’s greatest bottler of single-cask, single-malt Scotch whiskies; similarly (for those who will be traveling through the U.K.), any of the whiskies bottled by Cadenhead or Berry Brothers & Rudd would go down a treat; and likewise any of the (currently only six) single-cask, single-malt Scotch whiskies from the Jewish Whisky Company’s Single Cask Nation label would be very greatly appreciated, too. Rather than go on and on with such a list, however, we thought, instead, that we’d simply revisit a bunch of the great if slightly pricier recent distilled spirits we’ve enjoyed:
Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey (50 percent abv; $75): How on earth the late master distiller Lincoln Henderson came up with this seemingly bizarre process formula for this Angel’s Envy Rye is absolutely beyond us; on several levels this ought not to work, yet it does — brilliantly! First he sourced rye whisky (distilled from a mash bill of 95 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley and matured for at least six years in American oak barrels) from Midwest Grain Products. He then subjected this mature whiskey to (up to) 18 months of finishing in French-oak casks that were previously used to finish Plantation XO 20th Anniversary Barbados Rum for 18 to 24 months (and before that, to mature Pierre Ferrand Cognac). The net result, surprisingly, is a sweetish whiskey with vibrant, spicy rye notes (cinnamon and mint), weirdly tamed yet not smothered by rich maple syrup, and exhibiting additional aromas and flavors of graham crackers, gingerbread, creamy vanilla, nutty toffee, some gentle tropical fruit and golden raisins. The medium-length finish offers more rum than rye notes, but the interplay throughout just works.
Auchentoshan 18-year-old Single-Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $90): Aged exclusively in used bourbon casks, this triple-distilled whisky is light and refreshing, aperitif-like, with aromas and flavors of fresh fruits — raisins, flowers, honey, almonds — vanilla and a kiss of candied ginger, all against a deep and full backdrop of toasted malt and oak. Then a lovely, refreshing, zesty citrus quality emerges and shines through in the finish.
The Glenfarclas 17-year-old Single-Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $90): A deliciously playful, rich, big, yet refined and complex, sherried whisky, with notes of butterscotch, custard, honey, ginger, malt, dates, raisins, a touch of peat smoke and a long-lasting, slightly drying finish with a hint of spice. Wow.
Glenglassaugh, Distillers Selection, North American Exclusive, 37 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (56 percent abv; $649.99 [sigh]): Expensive, yet oh so good. The nose is sumptuous and enticing with notes of chocolate-covered raisins, plums, honeycomb, apricots, smoked hickory, brown sugar, walnut and carrot cake, and tingly candied ginger. On the oily, meaty palate, the flavors deliver on that brilliant nose — with additional notes of cherry liqueur, cracked pepper, cloves, nutmeg and citrus. The medium-long finish is unctuous and mouthwatering, with a bit more wood and spice influence. An amazing if (sadly) super-expensive whisky.
The Glenlivet 18-year-old Single-Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $90): A very fine example of truly great Glenlivet whisky. This pale copper-colored spirit offers aromas of flowers (peonies?), sultanas, fruitcake, honeycomb, barley, ripe plums and dark oranges, followed by flavors of panna cotta, honey, vanilla, prunes, a touch of fudge, a hint of smoke, subtle coconut and some chocolate nuts edge their way in, ending with a long, dry, spicy oak finish in which the various flavors dance gently on the taste buds. A lovely and absorbing dram.
Glenmorangie Signet, Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky (46 percent abv; $200+): huge and delicious. The Signet has lovely, complex notes of malt and chocolate. The wood is very much present, but plays nicely with this oily, hefty dram, creating something almost like a marmalade bitter sweetness on the tongue. Try it first neat, and give it 20 minutes to breathe — the nose is just out of this world with additional notes of orange zest, nutmeg, oiled leather, ground coffee and honey. Tastes super with ice, too, though we don’t especially recommend drinking much of it with ice — the cold inhibits aspects of it, allowing other bits of the taste profile to shine through. A stunning joyride, with a fine contemplative dimension.
Jameson 18-year-old Irish Whiskey (40 percent abv; $90): This charming Irish whiskey is distinctly bourbon-like on the nose, but with lovely flowery aromas, which soon thereafter return to Ireland from Kentucky with wonderful notes of honey, vanilla, barley and toffee, with soft, rich and juicy notes of apricots, oranges, dried fruits, fig preserve, butterscotch, hazelnut, cloves, nutty fudge and malt. The luscious, oily sweetness ends with a burst of dried fruits, spices and citrus fruits, finishing long and delicate with spices, melon, toasted barley and some subtle, spicy, toasted oak.
Talisker 25 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky, bottled in 2005, from the Isle of Sky (57.2 percent abv; these days selling for $300+ if you can still find it): This golden-colored whisky is earthy, rich and pungent, with bonfire smoke, apple brandy, oak, and some pepper, changing to softer, more floral notes as it breathes. On the palate it starts big, firm and strong, with a complex mix of spice and herbs (including pepper, fennel, bay leaf and thyme), malt and floral notes, with plenty of that characteristic Talisker pepperiness, traces of peat smoke, a touch of sweetness. The finish is absorbing, lingering and deeply aromatic. L’Chaim.